Beyond the home office: raising the level of professionalism for small businesses

(ARA) – Millions of Americans are pursuing the dream of owning their own business. For those developing and growing their concept among an increasingly large field of independent business owners, the need to stand out in the crowd can’t be overstated. Some small business owners are finding that the traditional idea of working out of the home needs some refreshing in order to ensure success.

“In this information age, ‘work’ is no longer a place; it is something you do,” says Ralph Gregory, founder and CEO of Intelligent Office. “And you can do it from most anywhere with the right support services.”

Consider these tips for making sure that your small business is poised to succeed.
  • Prepare yourself every day. Independent business owners need to apply the same professionalism to each day that they would apply if they were going into corporate headquarters. That means setting a time schedule: requiring yourself to be to work on time, taking a lunch break and a designating an end to the day. How you dress also has an impact on your attitude, so wear appropriate professional attire. And if you are doing work from your home, make it clear to other family members that your workspace is off limits and that you shouldn’t be interrupted during business hours.

  • Be available to meet with customers in a professional setting. Meeting with customers at your home is often out of the question, and it blurs personal and professional lines. As well, meeting at a coffee shop or other public location can be noisy and distracting – not conducive to business. A smarter solution is to use a service like Intelligent Office, which allows you to give your business a more professional edge by providing office space or conference rooms – often in desirable, prestigious locations – for an affordable hourly rate. This virtual office space gives you the opportunity to interact with your clients in an established office building and equips you with the necessary tools for making presentations or hosting meetings for large or small groups.
  • Provide professional service. If a prospective new client calls and you miss it because you’re on the other line or away from your desk, you’re putting your business at a disadvantage. In today’s competitive business environment, you can’t afford to lose an opportunity to speak to someone interested in your business. Likewise, making the right impression when you do answer the phone is important. If there’s distracting noise in the background, it can cause you to lose focus, or it might give your customer doubts about your professionalism. A virtual receptionist service, like that provided by Intelligent Office’s Intelligent Assistants, is an affordable alternative that provides highly professional, personalized phone answering services and a dedicated business telephone number, ensuring that your calls aren’t missed and that your clients get a consistent, positive and professional impression of your business.

  • Strike a balance. Maintaining a work-life balance is one of the most important parts of working independently, and, for many people, it’s the reason they decided to start their own business. However, striking a good balance means that there shouldn’t be too much home in your work, but also that there shouldn’t be too much work in your home. Having a dedicated space to work from outside the home allows you the freedom to work independently without your work encroaching on your home.

There are plenty of independent small business owners who work from a corner of their homes or by going from café to café, but for many there is a better way to operate. By using virtual office space and virtual assistant services, small business owners can offer clients the professionalism and services that they’d expect from larger companies, but with the personal touch that sets small businesses apart.

Social marketing tools for the SMB

These days, promoting your small business without social marketing is like bowling without the bumpers on: your more traditional marketing and advertising efforts such as newspaper, television, radio, snail mail, etc. may knock some pins down, but you have a better chance of bowling a strike when you employ tools such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogging and more.
The landscape of social media is forever changing and new avenues for promotion are created all the time. Small businesses face the daunting tasks of understanding what it is, how to make it work and in what capacity. The following are some useful articles we found that can help guide your social marketing endeavors:

How #Hashtags Can Work For You! – Vertical Response Marketing Blog – How to insert hashtags into your tweets to capture followers of certain tags, keywords and buzzwords.

30 Valuable Lessons Learned Using Social Media for Small Business – SMB owner Mark Hayward shares his experience after three years of using social marketing tools.

10 Small Business Social Media Marketing Tips – Detailed article by Ross Kimbarovsky about social media marketing strategies.

What are the advantages of a virtual office?

Virtual offices, or co-working spaces as they are sometimes referred to, are popping up all over the country. They are best suited for small businesses, start-ups or solo professionals who need a professional atmosphere to conduct business but do not need full-time space or do not care to commit to a long-term lease. Some common users of this relatively new innovation are attorneys, accountants, mobile salespeople, event planners, therapists, mediators, frequent travelers, real estate agents, networking groups and trainers.

At a basic level, facilities provide a mailing address, mail services, own telephone number, live phone answering, voicemail and a fully-furnished, private office that includes a desk, chair, computer and telephone. Use of a meeting room and/or training area depends on the location. Some centers also provide administrative support such as faxing, copying, typing, data entry and appointment setting. Others even offer the advantage of having on-site business development services, website consulting, video conferencing, bookkeeping/tax prep, and merchant services.

There are many benefits to a virtual office. In contrast to a home-office, a virtual setting, along with mailing address and phone number, may help to convey to prospective and current clients that you are a more legitimate, capable and professional business. There are significant cost advantages as well. Aside from costing less than a traditional suite because you are only paying for the amount of hours per month you anticipate using the office, you do not have any utility, internet or phone bills. In addition, virtual office facilities that offer the aforementioned business incubator-type services establish themselves as a central hub at which all business operations and development can be accomplished under one roof maximizing productivity.

A virtual office is a great place to start because it is relatively inexpensive yet professional and provides all the necessary tools for small businesses to enhance and grow. As you gain more employees, customers and revenue and find you are using the virtual office more than 30+ hours a week, it may be time to reevaluate and consider using a full-time space.